It is a well-reported fact that long-term stress is bad for your health. One physiological effect of prolonged stress is high cortisol. But it appears that stress is an inescapable part of your life. So are you doomed to stress-related illness and disease? How can you escape the inevitable? You could leave your job! Tell your kids that playing hockey is no longer an option. None of these courses of action is viable. In this blog I outline to you the symptoms and the physiological effects of stress, it’s long term consequences and how you can at least slow the inevitable!
Symptoms of high cortisol
- A feeling you’re always racing from one task to the next? ￼ ￼
- Feeling wired yet tired? ￼ ￼
- A struggle calming down before bedtime or a second wind that keeps you up late?
- Difficulties falling asleep or interrupted sleep? ￼ ￼
- A sense of anxiety or agitation—can’t stop fretting about things beyond your control?
- Haste to feel anger or fury—frequent screaming or yelling? ￼ ￼ Memory slips or feeling inattentive, especially under pressure? ￼ ￼
- Sugar yearnings (you need “a little something” after each meal, habitually of the chocolate kind)?
- Increased tummy circumference, more than 35 inches.
- Skin ailments such as eczema or thin skin.
- Bone loss.￼
- High blood pressure or rapid heartbeat.
- High blood sugar.
- Heartburn, ulcers, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)? ￼ ￼
- Difficulty recuperating from physical trauma than in the past?
- Unexplained pink to purple stretch marks on your abdomen or back? ￼ ￼
- Abnormal menstrual cycles? ￼ ￼
- Diminished fertility?
Physiological effects of high cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. Cortisol is released by your adrenal glands when your brain is reacting to a perceived stressor such as a speeding car coming towards you. The cortisol enables your body to evade the oncoming car, which is known as the “fight or flight response”. Once you are out of danger, your adrenals stop releasing cortisol. Unfortunately, the stressful nature of your daily life means that you are always evading that speeding car and as such your body is continually releasing cortisol. Long-term production of your high cortisol has been linked to the following health risks:
Prediabetes. The primary job of cortisol is to raise blood glucose. Even small increases in cortisol such as those encountered when you drink coffee, can increase your blood sugar and improve insulin resistance, both precursors to prediabetes.
Obesity. High cortisol will cause you to put on weight, especially around your middle, where fat cells have four times more cortisol receptors than elsewhere in your body.
Depression. People with long-term high cortisol experience problems with emotional perception, processing and regulation, similar to symptoms found in depression.
Delayed wound healing. Research has shown that high cortisol is associated with slow wound healing.
Infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS, the top reason for infertility, has been linked to high cortisol.
Insomnia. Research shows that insomniacs have higher 24-hour cortisol levels.
Osteoporosis and a higher occurrence of fractures are associated with high cortisol, according to research.
Scientifically proven natural ways to lower high cortisol
If you have 3 or more of the symptoms of high cortisol, I suggest the recommendations below. Begin with the lifestyle changes, then the supplements and finally the botanicals.
Cut the Caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the adrenals to produce cortisol. The effect of caffeine is dose dependent for some people, but if you suffer from insomnia, anxiety or bruxism, I suggest you wean yourself off caffeine.
Chanting daily. Chanting has been shown to deactivate the vigilance areas of the brain such as the amygdala.
Do some Heartmath. Heartmath is a computer program that measures heart rate variability. Loss of variability has been shown to be a sign of internal stress. If meditation or yoga does not appeal then try purchasing a the Heartmath app that you can use on your phone or iPad.
Practice forgiveness. Holding onto resentment ages you and raises cortisol. Forgiveness training has been shown to lower cortisol.
Pantethine (Vitamin B5) appears to reduce cortisol in highly stressed people. The recommended dosage for B5 is 500mg/day.
Vitamin C has been proved to lower cortisol in adults. The recommended dosage for adults is 3000mg/day.
Phosphatidylserine is an extract from the membrane of a cell and has been shown to lower cortisol. The optimal dose is 400mg/day.
L-Lysine combined with L-Arginine has been shown to reduce cortisol as well as anxiety.
If after implementing the lifestyle changes and supplementation that your symptoms have not improved then the next step is herbal medication. While these are readily obtainable over the counter or via the internet, I strongly suggest that you consult your trusted healthcare practitioner before embarking on with any herbal medication.
Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) has been shown in several high-level scientific studies to reduce cortisol. I recommend 200-400mg per day.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is the most commonly used herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. Despite this fact, remarkably there has been little research on humans. One study of Ashwagandha combined with other naturopathic treatments showed a significant benefit in reducing anxiety. I recommend a dosage of 300mg/day.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) is a plant used in Asian and Eastern European traditional medicine. In one study Rhodiola was shown to reduce cortisol as well as improve mental performance and concentration.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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